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Religions in the Context of an ethnic conflict, violence and war.

| by Rev. S.J. Emmanuel

( July 24, 2013, Berlin, Sri Lanka Guardian) 1.0 Although the long conflict is ethnic in character and between the Ceylon Tamils and the Sinhala people, all religions – Buddhism (70%), Hinduism (18%), Islam (8%) and Christians (7.5 %) - do have a role in escalating the conflict some way or other in the past and do have a role in resolving the conflict for the future. Their followers have all been affected by the conflict and war and are all engaged in caring for the victims of war. .

2.0 Buddhism and Hinduism- Commonalties

2.1 Buddhism and Hinduism have had followers from very early times, before 2000 years. They are respectively the religions of the majority Sinhalese (75%) and the minority Tamils (18%). These religions have rooted themselves as peoples’ religions into the respective cultures of the Sinhalese and the Tamils respectively.

2.2 Though theraveda Buddhism, in its doctrine is a non-theistic religion, in Sri Lanka it gives place to deity-worship. Within the premises of many Buddhist temples, there are “shrine-rooms” with Hindu-gods. Sinhala Buddhists after listening to the preaching of the Buddhist monk and offering flowers to Buddha, visit these shrines and make petitions in their need.

2.3 During festival-processions like the one in which Buddhists carry the tooth-relic of Buddha, Hindu devotees do Kaavadi dance as a form of their participation. Or in going to pilgrimages to Adams Peak – claimed by the followers of all 4 religions as of religious significance, or to Kataragama in the South , to Naina Theevu in the North, there are no difficulties. Hence there is no religious conflicts between the majority Buddhists and the minority Hindus. 

3.0 Buddhism and Hinduism – disimilarities

3.1 Though both Buddhism and Hinduism have taken roots into the people, when it comes to influencing the socio-cultural life styles of the Sinhala and Tamil people in the Southwest and Northeast of Sri Lanka respectively, they have varied degrees or depth of influence. Besides both Buddhism and Hinduism by their rooting or contextualisation, by their history and culture, have given rise to Sinhala Buddhism which is found only in Sri Lanka and to Tamil Saivism in the Northeast of Sri Lanka.

3.2 Unlike Saiva-Hinduism among the Tamils, the Sinhala theraveda Buddhism in Sri Lanka is more militant and politically conscious and socially engaged. There is a “Protestant Buddhism” as well as socially-engaged Buddhism. The Buddhist temple and the Vihara, the house of the monks are the centers of Buddhist preaching. Buddhist preaching or bana-preaching include often discourses about the history of the people, their heritage and their socio-political roles in Sri Lanka.

3.3 Saivism unlike Buddhism and its counterparts in North-India, is a passive form of theistic worship centered around the Temples and the Vedas. It has no hierarchical structure or institutions as the Sassana or the monastery in Buddhism. Hindu priests are Poosaris, offering sacrifices and interceding gods with their prayer-formulae. They wield hardly any influence in shaping the thinking and engagement of the people in society or politics.

4.0 During the colonial times 16-19 centuries

4.1 Portuguese as the first colonizers converted Buddhists and Hindus to Catholicism. The Dutch brought the Reformed church and persecuted the Catholics to establish the Reformed churches. Under the British Anglicans and Methodists and much later the church of South India won followers from among both Sinhalese and the Tamils.

4.2 Hence Buddhism and Hinduism were affected much by the colonial oppression. During the last phase of British colonialism, efforts were made for the restoration of these religions to their pristine glories. But both looked forward to the end of colonialism to enjoy more freedom and respect for their religions.

4.3 Christians, being converts from Buddhism and Hinduism, in spite of their contribution to education and charitable institutions, were seen as post-colonial and European by the others. Christian were conscious of their foreign and minority character and hence were reluctant in leadership roles in a post-colonial Ceylon and Sri Lanka. 

5.0 Religion why and for what purpose?

5.1 Religions are meant to serve the welfare and redemption or liberation of man. Religion is for man and not man for the religion. None of the religions of the world can claim to give liberation or salvation to an individual. They can serve the cause of man in limited ways, depending on the teachings and the services they provide to man.

5.2 A religion is to serve man in his context of life, not divorced from it. Religions serve human beings in varied ways but for a single cause – his welfare, liberation or salvation. The people of Sri Lanka, be they Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims or Christians, they are all meant to serve the people in their life as individuals and community members, in sociopolitical and economic life. Though their contributions are spiritual guidance, impetus and motivation, they are indispensable and instrumental in building up a better peaceful society.

5.30 But the ability to play the noble and positive role of serving man and community in Sri Lanka, each of the religions was defined or limited

5.31 by the self-understanding of each of these religions which in turn was defined by their history in the country, their claims and their actual numbers

5.32 by their teaching about the relationship between religion and socio-political realities.
In Sri Lanka, each religion by reason of their varied depths and influence among the people, they were expected to play key roles in shaping a united and peaceful community.
Unfortunately each religion had a limited and even negative understanding of its role in the larger society. They sometimes remained anti-political or apolitical or too political.
By their growth and nature they have played their roles either in a destructive way or non-concerned or indifferent way or influencing way. 

Sri Lankan Sinhala Buddhism, the religion of the majority, has allowed the legendary Mahavamsa Chronicle, written by a Buddhist monk centuries after Buddha, to overtake the true teachings of Buddha. The Mahavamsa mentality has shaped and determined the thinking and actions of the Buddhists and their leaders in a post-colonial Sri Lanka. 

Saivism or Sri Lankan Hinduism, was the matrix of Tamil culture and pillars of the Tamil Kingdom. But their role in shaping the politico-social thinking was very little. In competition with the colonials and foreign missionaries, Hindus strive hard to establish their schools. Their schools were proud in producing highly qualified servants of the State but not in motivating sociopolitical leaderships.

Islam was the religion of the the Sri Lankan and Indian Moors, as well as the Malays, who were either farmers and fishermen on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka or successful businessmen, in the capitals and southwestern coast of Sri Lanka. Their role in the larger society was determined by seeking the protection and favour of the Governments of the time. Most of them spoke Tamil as well as Sinhalese.

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